12 May. After 40 days of siege, General Benjamin Lincoln surrenders Charles Town (Charleston), South Carolina, to the British forces commanded by General Henry Lincoln.
2 October. After being captured with Benedict Arnold's plans for the surrender of West Point, the headquarters of the Continental army, British spy Major John Andre is hanged. Having escaped on 25 September after hearing of Andre's capture, Arnold later becomes a brigadier general in the British army.
Delaware makes it illegal to enslave imported Africans.
Pennsylvania passes an Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery - on March 1
A freedom clause in the Massachusetts constitution is interpreted as an abolishment of slavery.
Massachusetts enfranchises all men, but not women, regardless of race.
17 January. At the battle of Cowpens, South Carolina, General Daniel Morgan defeats the British forces of Colonel Banastre Tarleton, an important victory for the Americans.
Articles of Confederation : March 1, 1781
10 June. Reinforced by troops under General Anthony Wayne, American forces under the Marquis de Lafayette help to fend off raids by Benedict Arnold and Cornwallis in Virginia.
6 September. Benedict Arnold and his troops attack and destroy parts of New London, Connecticut.
28 September After French Admiral de Grasse defeats the British fleet under Admiral Thomas Graves and gains control of Chesapeake Bay, the siege of Yorktown begins as 9,000 American and 7,000 French troops under General George Washington and Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, converge on the city.
General Cornwallis signs the surrender papers on October 19, thus ending the last major battle of the Revolutionary War.
Articles of Capitulation; October 18, 1781
The Bank of North America is established by the Continental Congress to lend money to the fledgling Revolutionary government
Jury Decides in Favor of "Mum Bett" Freeman, August 22, 1781
Ann Lee leads her Shaker colleagues in a missionary tour of New England lasting two years
Slaves in Williamsburg, Virginia, rebel and burn several buildings
Deborah Sampson, disguised as a man, enlists in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment as Robert Shurtleff. She is one of many women who fight in the American Revolution. Letter by Paul Revere in support of a military pension for Deborah Sampson Gannett.
Contract Between the King and the Thirteen United States of North America, signed at Versailles July 16, 1782
Mercy Otis Warren: "TO A YOUNG GENTLEMAN, RESIDING IN FRANCE." An instructional poem in which Warren offers advice to her son about avoiding the temptations young men from America may encounter when they are away from home.
Some 40,000 Loyalists flee from British America to the previously French colonies, in particular Nova Scotia
Treaty of Paris ends the Revolutionary War.
The Supreme Court of Massachusetts abolishes slavery in that state.
Letitia Cunningham, worried about the public debt, published in Philadelphia, THE CASE OF THE WHIGS WHO LOANED THEIR MONEY ON THE PUBLIC FAITH FAIRLY STATED. INCLUDING A MEMENTO FOR CONGRESS TO REVIEW THEIR ENGAGEMENTS, AND TO ESTABLISH THE HONOUR AND HONESTY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Noah Webster's "BLUE-BACKED SPELLER" (A GRAMMATICAL INSTITUTE OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE) helps to standardize spelling and to distinguish British from American English that eventually will sell more than 60 million copies.
Beginning of the China Trade, as the American Ship Empress of China, sailing from New York, arrives at Canton, China. The ship will return with exotic goods, including silks and tea, spurring large numbers of American merchants to enter the trade.
Hannah Adams (1755-1831) writes AN ALPHABETICAL COMPENDIUM OF THE VARIOUS SECTS. Boston: B. Edes and Sons, 1784. Adams, the first American woman to earn a living by writing, produces her most significant work, a reference to modern religions intended to "avoid giving the least preference of any denomination over another." Revised editions would appear in 1791, 1801, and 1817 as A DICTIONARY OF ALL RELIGIONS, and the work is an indispensable resource in registering the changes in religious views in America from 1784 to 1817.
Americanus, Ovid [pseud.]. LESSONS FOR LOVERS. TO WHICH IS ADDED THE THUNDERSTORM, A POEM. Supposed to be written by the late celebrated Miss A***, now Mrs. L***. Philadelphia: Robert Bell, 1784.
Treaty With the Six Nations : 1784.
Phillis Wheatley writes her final publication, "LIBERTY AND PEACE: A POEM." Wheatley had married John Peters, a free black Bostonian, in 1778. Their union was marked by constant financial difficulties, and after her husband was jailed for debt, Wheatley found herself without friends to help her. She supported herself and her family as a laundress in a boardinghouse that catered to blacks. This poem, her last attempt to regain public notice, was unsuccessful. Sick and overworked, Wheatley died on December 5.
Martha Ballard begins her diary on January 1, 1785.
Congress relocates to New York City, temporary capital of the U.S.
Thomas Jefferson is appointed minister to France, replacing Benjamin Franklin.
Treaty With the Wyandot, etc.; January 21
Treaty With The Cherokee; November 28
Mercy Otis Warren writes SANS SOUCI, a biting satire of elite society in Boston after the Revolution. This social critique of fashion and manners uses many of Mercy Otis Warren's literary hallmarks, though she never claimed authorship.
A Petition by Rachel Lovell Wells, 1786
Treaty With the Chocktaw; January 3
Treaty With the Chickasaw; January 10
Treaty With the Shawnee; January 31
Americans suffer from post-war economic depression including a shortage of currency, high taxes, nagging creditors, farm foreclosures and bankruptcies.
Congress adopts a decimal coinage system based on the Spanish milled dollar.
In Massachusetts, angry representatives from 50 towns meet to discuss money problems including the rising number of foreclosures, the high cost of lawsuits, heavy land and poll taxes, high salaries for state officials, and demands for new paper money as a means of credit. To prevent debtors from being tried and put in prison, ex-Revolutionary War Captain Daniel Shays, who is now a bankrupt farmer, leads an armed mob and prevents the Northampton Court from holding a session.
Susanna Haswell Rowson (c. 1762-1824) writes VICTORIA. Rowson's first novel is published by subscription. It is a tale of seduction, in which a woman is tricked into a sham marriage, becomes pregnant, is abandoned, and goes insane before dying.
Publication in London of An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Particularly the African, by Thomas Clarkson. Quickly reprinted in the United States, it is the single most influential antislavery work of the late 18th century.
The Federal Convention convenes in Philadelphia, although only seven states are represented. Several provisions of James Madison's Virginia Plan become part of the U. S. Constitution, including a bicameral legislature, a federal judiciary branch, and an executive branch. The Constitution is approved on 17 September and then is sent to the states for ratification. A large group of representatives from the newly independent colonies, including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, and others meet at the Philadelphia State House to discuss the future of the country and to draft a document reflecting Revolutionary ideals. This becomes the Constitutional Convention.
Congress enacts the Northwest Ordinance which establishes formal procedures for transforming territories into states. It provides for the eventual establishment of three to five states in the area north of the Ohio River, to be considered equal with the original 13.
The Ordinance includes a Bill of Rights that guarantees freedom of religion, the right to trial by jury, public education and a ban on slavery in the Northwest. Quakers flocked to the new territory, believing their prayers had been answered.
Philadelphia free blacks establish the Free African Society in Philadelphia, the first independent black organization and a mutual aid society.
The ratified U.S. Constitution allows a male slave to count as three-fifths of a man in determining representation in the House of Representatives. The Constitution sets 1808 as the earliest date for the national government to ban the slave trade. No vote is given to women.
Mercy Warren to Catherine Macaulay, 28 September 1787
October 1787-May 1788. The Federalist Papers appear in New York newspapers under the pseudonym Publius. The letters are written by James Madison (1731-1836), Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), and John Jay (1745-1829).
Rhode Island outlaws the slave trade.
A pamphlet describing a public trial is published in Philadelphia, THE TRIAL OF ALICE CLIFTON, FOR THE MURDER OF HER BASTARD-CHILD, AT THE COURT OF OYER AND TERMINER AND GENERAL GAOL DELIVERY, HELD AT PHILADELPHIA, ON WEDNESDAY THE 18TH DAY OF APRIL, 1787.
The constitution of the United States is ratified by the states, but it is immediately agreed that amendments will be desirable
Hannah More (1745-1833) publishes in Philadelphia, SLAVERY, A POEM.
Jews are permitted to hold federal office.
Pennsylvania amends law to forbid removal of blacks from the state.
George Washington (1732–1799) is unanimously elected the first president of the United States on April 30. and is inaugurated on Wall Street in New York. He serves two consecutive four-year terms.
Gershom Mendes Seixas, prayer leader of New York's Jewish congregation, is invited to Washington's inaugural.
The first American novel, William Hill Brown's The Power of Sympathy, seeks "to expose the dangerous Consequences of Seduction and to set forth the advantages of female Education."
Alexander Hamilton becomes secretary of the treasury in the administration of George Washington, whose federalist views he shares
Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745-c. 1801): THE INTERESTING NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF OLAUDAH EQUIANO, OR GUSTAVUS VASSA, THE AFRICAN. This narrative is an autobiography about being forced from Africa as an adolescent into slavery. In one of the first slave narratives, Equiano transcends the inhumanity of bondage and writes an insightful narrative.
Mercy Warren. Letter signed, dated Plimouth [Massachusetts], 20 September 1789, to Catharine Macaulay
Georgetown University, the first Catholic college in the U.S., is founded by Father John Carroll.
The first inaugural ball occurs in honor of President Washington.
In France, the French Revolution begins with the fall of the Bastille in Paris, an event witnessed by the American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson.
The U.S. Army is established by Congress. Totaling 1000 men, it consists of one regiment of eight infantry companies and one battalion of four artillery companies.
Quakers reconcile with the American government by congratulating Washington on his election as president, at the same time reaffirming that they "can take no part in any warlike measures on any occasion or under any power"
Susanna Haswell Rowson writes "A TRIP TO PARNASSUS" criticizing in verse the contemporary stage. She also publishes POEMS ON VARIOUS SUBJECTS AND THE INQUISITOR. In a loosely related collection of scenes from domestic life, Rowson expresses her opposition to the excessively contrived, idealized fiction of the day.
Treaty With the Wyandot, etc.; January 9
Treaty With the Six Nations; January 9
Susanna Haswell Rowson writes Mary; OR, THE TEST OF HONOUR. Rowson depicts a spirited heroine who demonstrates that her moral sense is superior to that of the wealthy aristocrat who refuses to let his son marry her.
Yale Law School, The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy. New Haven, CT.
Burt, Daniel S., editor. THE CHRONOLOGY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE: AMERICA'S LITERARY ACHIEVEMENTS FROM THE COLONIAL ERA TO MODERN TIMES. Houghton Mifflin Internet.
HISTORY MATTERS. American Social History Project / Center for Media and Learning (Graduate Center, CUNY) and the Center for History and New Media (George Mason University). Internet. http://historymatters.gmu.edu